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November 17, 2012

Defense optional





CLEMSON -- Clemson's basketball team defeated N.C. State 62-48 on Saturday evening in a defensive struggle at Littlejohn Coliseum.

OK, so that's not entirely true. The sport was football, and the game was held across the street at Death Valley.

But it was a defensive struggle. As in, both defenses struggled. A lot.

After the Tigers' previous six games, all convincing victories, it was easy to put nice and tidy bows on the wins. The general theme: offense does just about whatever it wants, defense continues to improve, Clemson romps.

This was different. Much different, and much harder to explain. The Tigers claimed a 10-win regular season for the first time since 1981, and they extended their home winning streak to 13, but they did it in a most unconventional way.

Clemson had 62 points after three quarters, yet the starters played the whole way because N.C. State did just about whatever it wanted through the air (not to mention kickoff returns) to remain within reach.

The Tigers' offense looks unstoppable heading into the regular-season showdown with South Carolina, and that's a drastic difference from last season when Clemson entered the rivalry game having put up 13 points and 337 yards in a 24-point loss to the Wolfpack.

And if you're down in the dumps because of the defense's showing in this one, just close your eyes and think back two years when Clemson had a good defense but often couldn't score a touchdown to save its life. That team finished 6-7. This one is bearing down on 11 wins and a BCS at-large bid.

That said, it's understandable if some Clemson fans aren't supremely comfortable about things when they see an opponent come into their place and roll up the numbers N.C. State did Saturday. The Tigers allowed 43 points in their previous three games combined and allowed five more than that in four quarters.

The Wolfpack totaled 597 yards on 88 plays while racking up 24 first downs. Mike Glennon threw for 493 yards and five touchdowns, the highest passing output by a visiting quarterback at Clemson.

And the stat of the day on a day for stats: Wolfpack receiver Tobais Palmer totaled 496 all-purpose yards - 277 on eight kickoff returns, and 219 on seven catches.

But Clemson's supercharged offense put up some eye-popping numbers of its own. They piled up 754 yards (3 shy of a school record) on 102 plays (school record). Tajh Boyd threw for five more touchdowns while completing 30 of 44 passes and breaking Woody Dantzler's school record for total offense in a game. The Tigers rushed for 328 yards, 124 by Andre Ellington and 103 by Boyd.

"What an incredible game," Dabo Swinney said after his team concluded its ACC slate 7-1 - one win better than last season, when the Tigers went to the conference title game.

"We made it harder than it had to be, and we gave them a couple of sparks. It's a good thing, though, because we haven't faced a lot of adversity as of late. We missed a lot of opportunities early, turnovers were huge, but offensively for us to respond with so many records led to a great win. There were just a lot of things going on in the game."

It was obvious early that this was going to be a wacky day. Clemson went up 13-0 seven minutes in, and everything seemed normal. Then N.C. State sucked the air out of the stadium by scoring three touchdowns on passes of 77, 49 and 18 yards in less than six minutes.

Then the Tigers responded with their own onslaught in the second quarter to take a 41-24 halftime lead.

So Clemson went from 13 up to 11 down to 17 up, all in the span of a half.

Really? Really.

"Coach was like, 'Don't go out there and start pressing,'" Boyd said of Swinney's words when the Tigers found themselves in a 24-13 hole. "I had the same look on my face at the beginning of the game as toward the end. You've just got to go out there and expect to make plays."

In a season when absurdly high-scoring games are the norm, maybe this was just Clemson's and N.C. State's contribution to college football armageddon.

Thirty-three yards and a cloud of dust.

Everything seemed OK early in the second half when Clemson scored touchdowns on its first two possessions, the first a 40-yard toss from Boyd to Martavis Bryant and the second a 9-yard run by Boyd.

The defense continued to put early pressure on Glennon, which was one of the keys to turning the second-quarter momentum in the Tigers' favor. Clemson was up 55-24, and the reserves were getting ready for more second-half action.

But a long kickoff return set up a quick Wolfpack touchdown, and then Boyd threw an interception deep in his territory to set up another score. Suddenly it was 55-38, and there was still 2:38 to be played in the third quarter.

The Tigers responded again when Brandon Ford took a pass over the middle and found no one in front of him. He dashed 69 yards for a score to make it 62-38.

But Clemson fans couldn't completely exhale until six minutes remained in the fourth, when Ellington converted a third down using impressive second effort.

Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien walked away saying his team couldn't hang with Clemson's fleet of skill guys. He was also impressed with an offensive line that kept the Wolfpack from pressuring Boyd. State entered the game ranked 11th nationally in sacks with three per game and had none Saturday.

"We couldn't get any pressure at all," O'Brien said. "We couldn't get to him. I think that was one of the things we've counted on in the past. Then Tajh pulls it down and takes off running. He's talented, there's no question about it."

Chad Morris, who's helped cook up all these offensive smorgasbords we've seen lately, was happy after the game. He said he'd never been a part of a game in which the starters were in on the last possession with 62 points on the board.

"Whatever it takes," he said.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.


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